Last year when the San Diego Chargers unveiled their wonder of a youngster for a full season, fantasy owners who grabbed Gates were treated to a record number of touchdowns (13) by a tight end. Gates gave perennial top fantasy TE Tony Gonzalez a run for his money, besting him significantly in TD-heavy formats. More importantly, he led a pro and fantasy resurgence at the position.
2004 was the year of the tight end. Jason Witten, Alge Crumpler, and the aforementioned Gonzalez and Gates were important pieces of many starting fantasy lineups. Even Eric Johnson was a significant player at one point in the season.
This summer, fantasy owners were all trying to identify the “Next Antonio Gates”. Opinions were streaking out of owners’ mouths faster than Michael Vick’s acceleration on an open field run. Would it be Chris Cooley, the young TE from D.C. about whom Joe Gibbs admitted a mistake by getting him too few looks in the offense last year? Or what about athletic Ben Troupe, especially with Norm Chow in tow for the Titans? Perhaps it would be Jeb Putzier of the Broncos, a popular choice.
If week one was any indication, this could be a monumental year for tight ends – rookies and veterans alike. 12 players gained 50+ yards receiving or gained two touchdowns, or both. And, our poster player, Antonio Gates, wasn’t even playing in week one. Other tight ends, like Jeremy Shockey, had a touchdown on the day and so were still fantasy factors. If you are weak at the TE spot, this first week may be your best time to add a playmaker at the position, or trade for someone who can make a difference for your fantasy squad. It seems essential to have someone dynamic playing this position for you, because there are suddenly a lot of points to go around. Here is a review of what those tall guys on the end of the line did this week in the NFL.
Chris Baker, Jets – When New York traded for Doug Jolley in the offseason, it was apparent that the team was desperate for a receiving upgrade at tight end. After all, they had a good blocker in Anthony Becht. They must have thought a lot of Jolley because the team could have drafted rookie Heath Miller where they would have selected in the first round. Surprisingly, Baker became a star in week one. He had seven receptions for 124 yards and the late score. Can he keep it up? If Laveranues Coles keeps dropping sure-thing scores, Chad Pennington is bound to keep looking for Baker. So though the score is random, the receptions might not be, and besides, Justin McCareins seems to be a complete afterthought.
Alex Smith, Buccaneers – Smith was an underrated tight end coming out in the draft this year, and he is a perfect fit to score often in Jon Gruden’s schemes. Smith’s two touchdowns Sunday indicate that he is already a key part of the new offense, one that features rookie running back Carnell Williams and a rejuvenated Joey Galloway. He is already a bye week option, and could become more than that with consistency. Another rookie starter, Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller, only caught one pass on the day but he made it count, catching a touchdown too.
Courtney Anderson, Raiders – It’s too early to anoint Anderson a major sleeper at tight end, mainly because his three catches for two touchdowns looks suspiciously like one of those terrific opening-day stat lines. Still, with Randy Moss present to attract coverage, Anderson might become a consistent red-zone option.
Daniel Wilcox, Ravens – Heap owners couldn’t be happy that the TE bird to take flight for Baltimore was not Todd. Wilcox was one of the few playmakers against the tough (seems wrong to say it) Colts defense Sunday night. If Anthony Wright plays for the Ravens for any length of time, perhaps Wilcox will be worth a slot on some rosters.
Marcus Pollard, Lions – It looks like the Lions made a smooth move in acquiring the former Colt. Pollard gained over 50 yards and had a key touchdown in Detroit’s confidence booster against the Packers. With so many first-round wideouts to please in this offense, it looks like Harrington will be happy to look for someone else when things get chaotic.
Randy McMichael, Dolphins – McMichael has always had skills, and maybe with a new coach to push him, he can hone his talent. Nick Saban brings a breath of fresh air to this team, as evidenced by their big opening-week jaunt over the Broncos, so 50 yards or a score could be what Randy rustles up weekly.
Ernie Conwell, Saints – Conwell was playing very well for the Saints, pulling in multiple passes before sustaining a concussion. Who knows how effective he will be coming back from that. It looked like Aaron Brooks believed in him, so keep an eye on him in the coming weeks.
Jeb Putzier, Broncos – Though the Broncos as a team got broken, Putzier was a lone bright spot for the offense. Lots of fantasy owners have been jawing about Jeb for months. As a late-round draft pick or week one pickup, he’s a good move.
Erron Kinney, Titans – Because the Titans are grooming so many young receivers (the rookies in addition to the still-inexperienced Calico), the tight ends will be very involved this year. The only problem is that like the Denver TE committees of the past, there is no one guy expected to acquire all the stats. Kinney, for instance, had over 50 yards receiving this week, which is a decent day for any fantasy tight end. However, Ben Troupe got the receiving touchdown. In fact, Troupe is probably the better fantasy option between the two.
Ben Watson, Patriots – So this is why the Patriots drafted him in the first round after grabbing Daniel Graham in the first round only a few years before. Graham is a superb blocker. Watson is the receptions guy now, and he was finally unleashed against Oakland. He gained 50+ yards and is a tight-end sleeper.
Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs – We all know what he can do. He began by also posting a 50+-yard outing.
Alge Crumpler, Falcons – Crumpler is a top tight end, no doubt about it. And with 54 yards receiving Monday night against the Eagles, it seems that reaching 50 yards is the benchmark for whether a tight end is worth starting this season.
Hire Joe Levit for corporate or client appreciation events at fantasyfootballspeaker.com. His fantasy football columns appear on SI.com and thehuddle.com. Joe, a PFWA and FSWA member, writes about the NFL for patriotsinsider.com and is a fantasy football analyst on radio. He is the creator of the Sleeper League and FF Hold ‘em League concepts.